“Thanks for your patience. How are we doing today?”
“Credit card and driver’s license—thanks…Thanks…New York, huh? How was your flight? Yeah, I know: at least you made it here, right?”
“Business or vacation, Mr. Halvifax?”
“I’ll gas it up myself. And I don’t need the insurance. My firm’s—“
“Yes, your profile shows you declined pre-pay and coverage. Not a problem, Mr. Halvifax.”
“So it’s just past four now. Returning here by five-thirty on Friday—no, wait, I’m sorry: this is a multi-state. Dropping off in Knoxville?”
“So your total will reflect a one-way rental for four days.”
“Before I forget: here’s your license…and….here’s your card. Thank you.”
“No other drivers?”
“We’ve been pretty busy today. Let me see what’s available. Maybe I can find you something that’s fun to drive…I’ve got a…Ford Mustang…the Dodge Challenger, a Solara. Any preferences?”
“Are any of them black?”
“Umm…I’m not sure…hold on a minute…”
“The model doesn’t matter to me, but I’d prefer—”
“The Challenger’s black.”
“That’s the one, then. Sorry for the bother. It’s a superstition—”
“Here’re the charges and here’re the taxes, fees and total. If they’re OK, just sign in the box.”
RENTED: S. MEMORIAL PKWY
RENTAL: 06/15/2000 19:19
RETURN: 06/20/2000 14:48
RETURNED: S. MEMORIAL PKWY
I’ve started my second summer internship here in Huntsville, having sent myself south to learn the law from los federales—the government once viewed as a hostile, occupying force by the citizens of this jurisdiction (and perhaps it’s still seen that way through the windshields of a truck or two). So far, this term is much like the last: I get dumped into the midst of casework research and have to fend for myself until the deadline for the memorandum comes. There isn’t much time to consider my surroundings, but every now and then:
…On Friday, I left the office late. Since it was after 5:30 p.m. at the beginning of a holiday weekend, there was almost no-one besides me in the lobby of the main building of the spaceflight center: there was only the desk receptionist at the opposite end of the long, rectangular room. The sun was setting beyond the tall, narrow windows in the west wall. Part of the sky was still the summer white that seems to fill the air all across Alabama this time of year, but elsewhere, big storm clouds moved across it, leaving long shadows on the dark, coarse leaves of the deciduous trees, pine needles and red clay soil below.
Inside, the walls were hung with portraits of astronauts, presidents, generals and bureaucrats, as well as paintings—from the large to the small—of spaceships, stars, and planets. On the south wall, there was a single painting—patterned after the shape of the hall’s windows— rendered across four narrow, vertical rectangles of wood spaced a few feet apart from one another and colored in shades of night blues. A full moon loomed high in the second panel from the left. Placed on the floor between the rectangles were three parallel pedestals, upon which were mounted models of many rockets. Some models were a few inches high, while others rose two feet tall.
Standing in that magical lobby with the neutral-suited receptionist paying attention to nothing but her magazine, my spirit broke from my body and floated free for a few moments, somewhere between the true sun and the false moon, between the storm over the Tennessee valley and the collection of plastic models in the air-conditioned hall. While in that state, the disembodied voices of astronauts and engineers debating about the proper ratchets to be used in tomorrow’s outer space was evidence that every otherworld, no matter how exotic, is eventually taken for granted…
…Last night, I went to a party at the municipal art museum that commemorated the anniversary of the arrival of the Nazi-era German scientists to the local arsenal (within which the space center was later placed). The agency was paying for the drinks, so plenty of dignitaries, state congressmen and senators, television reporters, etc., were lounging about. Many of the emigrants being honored are still alive—more than I would have expected. I was introduced to five or six of them and saw several others: old Germans with walkers or in wheelchairs, speaking English with soft voices and strong accents.
Next to a glass wall was a beautiful Japanese pianist playing Western classics beautifully. I was hanging out at the bar, not far from the Steinway, when one of the attorneys from the Counsel’s office strolled over for a chat. Despite differences in our backgrounds—he is both a JAG officer and an IP lawyer—Al always seemed to be a kindred spirit; I figured it was his New Jersey sarcasm. He’s fiftyish, bald and mustachioed, with a wife named Wanda who’s at least ten years his junior and who’s at least a foot taller than he is. The three of us were discussing how good the Mozart sounded when I discovered the true source of the kindred spirit: after Al came off duty during Vietnam, he started playing bass in rhythm and blues bands in Jersey and Manhattan. He knocked around with two or three groups, all of them combos of black and white musicians.
“Down here,” Al said, “you might still get thrown out of a white bar, at least, for having a black guy on drums, and that’s no shocker, right? But in the late 60s race relations were so hot we would routinely get tossed out of white or black clubs in New York and New Jersey once the owners realized that we were all going to play onstage together at the same time!”
He ended up playing with a heavy metal band for three years before he decided to go to law school. (Does that last part sound familiar?)
After a while, I got a hankering to smoke one of the Veracruz churchills I brought with me from Cincinnati, and right after I pulled it out of my pocket and excused myself to step outside, Wanda stopped me and said, “Hang on, I think you’re going to want to see this.”
She nodded toward something behind me, so I turned around. A dozen feet to my right, a waiter was locking the wheels on a three-foot high rectangular pedestal made of opaque, black plastic. Atop the pedestal was a glass pyramid that contained a large rock with an unusual color—a blend of grey, light blue and tan—and a weird, attention-grabbing shape.
I took one look at it and said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“Nope,” Al replied. “We’re standing here drinking scotch and soda, talking about rock and roll like it’s any old party in the world, and right over there is a piece of the goddamned moon!”
His wife added, “The agency rolls that thing out for special occasions. Lots of special occasions. I’m afraid we’ve gotten to the point where we take it for granted.”
I was, for once, speechless.
Al caught me gawking and clinked glasses with Wanda. “I could be wrong, but I’d guess there are no shindigs like this in Ohio.”
Enough for now. We’ll see how this all turns out: they haven’t made a formal offer of employment yet, but I have a sense that something is coming.
Have a great summer,
P.S. Charlotte is flying down to visit this weekend, so of course I couldn’t get the truck out of the parking lot today; it’s the transmission again. Luckily, I was able to catch a ride to the car rental office and pick up a reasonably functional sedan on short notice. We’re going to have to make some serious decisions soon, so it looks like the songwriting (along with the SF writing) is going to have to remain on indefinite hiatus. You guys seem to be cruising along just fine, anyway: a letter from Virika arrived a few days ago, and she said that the new lineup is already getting two shows a week! I was very glad to read that, amigo. Give me a holler when you get a chance.
RE: Fiancee v. Alabama
ISSUE: If there was anything for her to like in the city, Charlotte hoped she would find it during a slow dog walk through Old Town.
ANALYSIS: The district consisted of ten blocks of high-end architecture built between 1820 and 1929; it displayed the only hints of cultured affluence that she had seen during the past three days. Here were English-style gardens filled with roses and crepe myrtles, Italianate windows paned with wavy glass, Victorian homes built in styles more elegant than those of their newer, iron-wrought neighbors.
Street signs in Old Town were colored brown, demarcating a historic preservation zone, in contrast to the standard green signs found elsewhere in the city. These special status reminders were unnecessary. During the economic rebound from depression and war in the 1950s, the neighborhood’s structural beauty could have been extended into further blocks, but the tactless rendering of the urban core into quadrants divided by an elevated highway spur quashed that possibility long ago: surrounding the zone was a vulgar assortment of low-rent housing units, auto-body shops, warehouses and other buildings with facades that ran the gamut from the bland to the hideous.
Standing on a corner while her woolly grey mutt checked a rhododendron for urine samples, Charlotte sniffed aloud when she saw the brutal curve of an arterial interstate ramp a few blocks away. Shadows beneath such roadways provided easy cover for desperate men, and the sight of that unpainted mass rearing up behind the antique rooftops explained why homes for sale in the vicinity were underpriced.
The town, like the highway, served the nearby military arsenal. As she stared at the distant ramp, Charlotte remembered stabbing her finger in the air above a local map that she had unfolded across the coffee table in Errol’s summer rental apartment earlier in the morning, emphasizing that the square mileage of the base—which encircled the dozens of large buildings and parking lots of the spaceflight center—exceeded that of the urban core of its municipal neighbor.
“If we move, you’ll get to work in the middle of all this,” she said while pointing at the blue and pink masses of the arsenal, “while I’m stuck on my ass over in that.” She redirected her index nail toward a comparatively miniscule collection of black and green shapes that referenced downtown.
Charlotte regretted the tone of her remark as soon as she saw the crestfallen expression on Errol’s face and resolved to withhold judgment: perhaps her reflexive dislike of the place had narrowed her mind too fast for her to make a sound decision. When Errol took her for an introductory spin after picking her up at the airport, it had not taken Charlotte long to notice the prevalence of uniformed people in other cars and walking alongside the streets. There also seemed to be too many churches for such a small city, as well as an inordinate amount of bars advertising that Tuesdays and Thursdays were wet t-shirt nights. The likelihood of finding a female gynecologist or female friends whose first interests were not their own children shrank by the mile.
Instead of voicing aloud her anxieties about personal preferences, she said, “Looks like it’s going to be tough to restart the interior design business without hooking up with a rich women’s league—“
“—or an Episcopalian church group,” he admitted. “Methinks the International Brotherhood of Gay Designers and Event Planners hasn’t opened up a local chapter recently.”
“No. Something tells me that the average crewcut in this burg wouldn’t mind his wife making the interior décor decisions, but if she called in some homosexual fashion plate for advice, he might beat her like it was Super Bowl Sunday…I don’t think I’ll be getting many black clients, either. There seem to be an awfully big differences between the houses in their neighborhoods and the ones on the other side of the interstate.”
“That’s one of the first things I noticed last year,” Errol said. “There’s no avoiding it.”
Bullwinkle tugged Charlotte forward on the deserted sidewalk, impatient with his leash-holder’s daydreaming immobility. Old Town had its charms: there was no denying that the damp heat and heavy sunlight were good for gardening. On both sides of the street, cultivated flowers and shrubs blazed with semi-tropical reds, oranges and yellows in yards where topiaries were neat and trim, and lawns—especially those behind low walls—lay lush and even beneath steady rains from a squadron of sprinklers.
With the right house and the right interior lighting, Charlotte thought, perhaps she could start quilting in earnest for herself again.
“Whoa there!” said a voice behind the corner of a wall of thick shrubs that flanked a driveway to her left. At first, Charlotte could not see the speaker; the dog had gone to the end of his leash, rounded the corner and stepped onto the drive several paces ahead of her. She took a few quick bounds and got herself behind Bullwinkle with the leash drawn up and wrapped around her right hand: the Newfoundland mix was a gentle, dopey giant, but strangers had no reason to know that at first glance.
The speaker was a tall, lean black man with short hair and a manicured beard. He wore dark blue coveralls, and though he had a pair of large, wooden-handled shears in his right fist, both of his hands were angled downward and away from his body, displaying to beast and owner that he meant no harm.
“Sorry!” she half-shouted in embarrassment. “My dog likes to stick his nose into other people’s business. He’s friendly, though.”
The man’s brows rose with surprise, though he kept his eyes on the animal. He dropped his hands—while still holding the shears—to his sides. After a pause, he replied, “That’s good,” then raised his gaze toward Charlotte’s face, but focused his eyes somewhere off to her right.
She took in the yard. It was the best one yet. Trellises festooned with roses arched here and there, small islands of waist-high field grasses and wildflowers swayed between two weeping willows and a copper beech, and bluebirds played in the waters of a marble birdbath. Jasmine and honeysuckle scents lingered within the semi-enclosed space.
She gasped. “Wow, this is beautiful. Do you live here?” The question was less sincere than the exclamation.
The man twisted up a half-smile and shook his head. “No-ho-ho, ma’am.”
“But you did all this work, right?” Charlotte stepped close to a seven-foot high magnolia, and one of its star blooms brushed against her blonde hair. She turned back toward him. “This place ought to be in a magazine.”
His shoulders relaxed as he looked her in the eyes. “Thank you ma’am. I’ve worked here for a long time. Ten years this past April.”
She glanced over the array of gardening tools that were neatly arranged on a beige canvas tarp that was lying atop the grass left of the driveway. A metal canteen pocketed in an olive green canvas sleeve and strap lay on a corner of the tarp. No parts of the tools or the container touched the lawn.
“Well, you’ve certainly been doing a great job, especially in this heat!”
“Yes, I was just taking a water break…What’s his name?”
“The man laughed quietly as he crouched down before the dog and placed his clippers on the asphalt. His movements were a bit stiff, and Charlotte guessed that he was in his middle forties.
“Just like that old moose on TV, huh?” he asked. The plume of the mutt’s ostrich-like tail swished back and forth.
“You can pet him if you like. He’s really nice.”
Smiling, the man stroked the thick fur along Bullwinkle’s spine while the dog smelled his sleeve and shoulder. “Had me a good friend like Bullwinkle here for a long, long time. Fourteen years. Had to put her down last winter.”
“I’m sorry…do you want to hold his leash for a while?” She held it out to him.
“Oh no, no. But thank you very much.” He tousled Bullwinkle’s ribs and head, then stood up and wiped his palms on his pants.
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
Charlotte made a small, puzzled frown. “No. My husband and I are from the north. We’re just visiting.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Why?” she asked with a nervous chuckle.
The black man hesitated before replying in a quiet voice, “Because you’re talking to me.”
Charlotte had trouble telling me her story after she picked me up from work this evening. At least she finished the self-guided walking tour she promised to try. Her instincts have been right all along: the agency offers a good job, but the job site is in a landscape hostile to a list of aliens that’s not only too long for us, it probably includes us. So, wedding band trumps the moon.
But there’s no going back to Ohio; I’m still restless for a somewhere else. Maybe Al knows someone for me to call.
RENTED: LGA AIRPORT
RENTAL: 04/03/2001 08:41
RETURN: 04/06/2001 17:03
RETURNED: BATTERY PARK
With a little help from The Wanderer’s Companion: A Field Guide to New York Trees (a Christmas gift from Charlotte)—
Paw Paw. Asimina triloba.
Custard-Apple Family: Annonaceae. Native to E. US.
One of these was on the corner of Saturn and Skyway, near my parents’ house.
RENTED: BATTERY PARK
RENTAL: 06/06/2001 08:14
RETURN: 06/08/2001 16:46
RETURNED: BATTERY PARK
Pumpkin Ash. Fraxinus tomentosa.
Olive Family: Oleaceae. Native to U.S.
Mammoth height. Not great horizontal or diagonal branch extensions from the core, but long, downward-sloping branches create a curtain (or cascading) effect with canoe-shaped leaves. If I am able to do so in the future, I will plant one of these on a piece of property that I own.
RENTED: BATTERY PARK
RENTAL: 07/16/2001 07:50
RETURN: 07/19/2001 17:13
RETURNED: BATTERY PARK
Japanese Zelkova. Zelkova serrata.
Elm Family: Ulmaceae. Native to Japan.
The Zelkovas have a firm countenance of strength, age and breadth. Their thick trunks rocket from the earth. At the ends of their branches and twigs are thousands of small, oblong leaves with serrated edges, providing far more ground shade than neighboring trees of different species, and far more shadow than should be expected from such small forms, despite their sum.
Weeping Beech. Fagus sylvatica – ‘Pendula’.
Beech Family: Fagaceae. Native to Europe.
Ancient favorite of lovers in the Garden; trunk scarred by the hundreds with pairs of initials carved within outlines of hearts or on both sides of “+” signs.
Caucasian Wingnut. Pterocarya fraxinifolia.
Walnut Family: Juglandaceae. Native to W. Asia.
After the Zelkovas, my favorite tree today. The bark grows in twists and gnarls away from the trunk and branches and has a texture of burned newspaper. The core is stubby and thick with disproportionately long branches providing wide ground cover. Limbs bedecked with countless leaves of obvious walnut shape and relation. Short-stringed streamers with leaf sprouts hang down from the twigs. It is easy to imagine long-extinct mammals sleeping at its base, or giant lizards chewing on ferns that sprout between its wrinkled roots.
RENTED: RICHMOND AIRPORT
RENTAL: 08/29/2001 12:22
RETURN: 08/31/2001 16:40
RETURNED: NORFOLK AIRPORT
I didn’t quite believe Charlotte when she told me that Norfolk was Huntsville-by-the-Sea, but once again her sixth sense for real estate didn’t steer her far from right. Swap army for navy and rocketships for battleships, and voila: Mrs. Halvifax will have no regrets about staying at home.
From a business perspective, it couldn’t have been a more worthwhile trip, with the client appearing at the hearing fresh from a three-week stint in a mental hospital that followed her second suicide attempt. We were on the record maybe ten minutes before she wept, beat on the table with her fists and then fled from the hearing room. It took less than two more minutes for me to apologize and begin a superfluous argument about my client’s mental disability before Judge Brenner told me to pack my bags for the return flight because the case was won. Brenner’s usually a tough nut to crack, and I was riding high with mild euphoria for a few hours until I got lost on the way to the airport.
As usual, the driver’s side window was open by a few inches so I could hear the sounds of the road. The air conditioning was set for maximum chill because the breeze blowing onto my left ear and shoulder was hot, damp and salted, and the Malibu’s console showed the external temperature hovering between ninety-seven and ninety-nine degrees. The radio was off because I hated everything I could hear with it.
For miles on all sides stretched block upon block of one to two-storey homes built between Eisenhower’s first inauguration and Nixon’s second, lawns chemically enhanced into a uniform viridescence and landscaped with dogwoods, goldenrain trees and Rose-of-Sharon. Under the canopy of tall, cobra-headed streetlamps that reared up from every corner, the place looked a lot like the Ray Bradbury neighborhood where I grew up. The pedestrians were dressed in the same type of costumes worn by middle class folks back home—baseball caps, jorts, trackie-Bs and sagging jeans—with only minor variations in style, like the names of the sports teams splayed across the t-shirts.
One overarching characteristic separated this stretch of postwar development from the Cincy suburbs: everyone walking, talking, listening to music, working on cars or just watching the traffic go by was brown-skinned. Behind the wheels, it was a different story. Almost all of the drivers I passed were white, with few exceptions.
I went into a languid, leftward curve with no one around but a single bicyclist—a teenaged black kid correctly pedaling his ten-speed close to the curb against the flow of traffic. He disappeared beyond the edge of my side-view mirror when I rounded the bend. The next thing I knew, I spun the steering wheel to veer the Malibu leftward, out of the path of a red vehicle barreling over the hill in front of me, down the centerline of the two-lane road. It was moving too fast for me to discern the make and model, but neither the automobile nor its driver was Grand Prix material.
“Fuck you!” I shouted at the blur of his puffy, bespectacled face, pale behind the windshield. After passing me without alterations in speed or trajectory, the red car’s tires gave a short shriek when they took the curve behind me.
As I readjusted to the right side of the line, there came another high-pitched sound from behind me: a ripping scream with an abrupt end.
I dropped speed, pulled into a driveway, recklessly reversed back onto the road to face the opposite way and headed back in the direction from which I had traveled. A few moments later, I saw three vehicles arranged on either side of the road not far past where I last viewed the cyclist. There was a dark heap on the far side of the street with a white man in a pink polo shirt and khaki pants bent over it. The man was talking into a cell phone. Behind him were two cars, parked on the shoulder, hazard lights flashing.
The third vehicle was the red car, at rest in a thick copse of shrubs with fresh tracks tracing muddy, orange lines through the grass that lay between the asphalt’s edge and the rear wheels. The driver’s side door hung open, its outside lower corner jammed into the soil. I drew the Malibu up onto the slim shoulder a few dozen yards beyond the abandoned car and hit the hazard button, then turned off the rental and jogged back to take a look. It was a Pontiac. The windshield was cracked and the front end was damaged, but the thing was far from totaled. There was no blood.
No one was around, so I said to the trunk, “Fieros always were pieces of shit.”
A black guy my age, who like me was wearing a shirt and tie, emerged running from between two nearby ranch houses. With his right hand he pointed further up the lane and with his left he hailed me with a wild wave.
“C’mon! He went this way!”
I sprinted toward where he had pointed as fast as my airport-shined oxfords would let me: my peripheral vision had caught sight of the bike, bent into obscene angles and lying in a yard to my left.
My counterpart was faster than me. He passed three houses and—without breaking stride—pointed toward the group of them and then at me; he next pointed from himself toward houses further away. I understood what he meant by the gestures immediately and turned right to race through the front lawns, driveways, and backyards of the homes toward which he had pointed. We were hunting as a team with a telepathic agreement: if one of us saw someone we assumed was the fleeing driver, we would stop his flight, acting alone or in tandem, however it could be done. We—I, at least—intended a citizen’s arrest of a violent kind.
In the suburban landscape, it was hard to judge how many blocks we searched—jogging, stopping to stand with hands on hips, breathing hard while staring and snooping—but we worked both sides of the fairway, trespassing on one lot after another, shoving or leaping our way through hedgerows to open gates and violate privacies.
We gave up—again by mutual, silent assent—not long after the emergency medical service van and its three-car police escort passed us. Along separate shoulders, we trotted back, shirt tails flapping in the wind, to the site of the collision; our clothes were nicked, cut and smudged brown and green in countless places.
By the time we reached our destination, the police had already parked their patrol cars to redirect traffic and establish a protective barrier around the area where the EMS van stood with its rear doors open and the medical squad, a white man and a black woman, were bent over the boy. Many other cars, trucks and utility vehicles were parked beyond the perimeter established by the authorities, and there was a great number of lights flashing their colors—red, yellow and white—onto the faces and bodies of the small crowd of onlookers gathered around the people in uniforms.
Next to the curb, the bicyclist lay face down on the asphalt. He was a long, tall kid; I hadn’t noticed that before. A Charlotte Hornets ball cap—I assumed it was his—was next to his right hand. There was no blood.
My fellow searcher said something to a white cop while a black cop spoke into a portable phone. The medical team gingerly turned the kid over. He was handsome. Neither limbs nor face looked broken, disjointed or disfigured. The male medic used his latexed fingertips to prop the rider’s head against the caps of the medic’s own knees. With his eyes closed, the boy made a sound like a belch, but I couldn’t tell what part of him made the noise.
Then came all the dark fluids, pouring out of the slackened mouth, the nostrils, the ear closest to the ground, running over his shirt and onto the asphalt beneath him.
I looked away then, sure I would return to the scene.
RENTED: GREENSBORO AIRPORT
RENTAL: 01/06/2003 20:39
RETURN: 01/09/2003 17:01
RETURNED: ATLANTA AIRPORT
RENTED: ST. LOUIS AIRPORT
RENTAL: 10/24/2005 16:37
RETURN: 10/27/2005 16:12
RETURNED: KANSAS CITY AIRPORT
RENTED: SAN DIEGO AIRPORT
RENTAL: 03/17/2008 18:50
RETURN: 03/20/2008 17:31
RETURNED: SAN DIEGO AIRPORT
RENTED: CHARLESTON AIRPORT
RENTAL: 04/27/2010 09:48
RETURN: 04/30/2010 17:18
RETURNED: CIN-NKY AP
The flight from La Guardia to Charleston is usually a short, easy ride. Knowing that Charlotte had taken Bullwinkle in for his follow-up appointment at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan made the trip an interminable misery.
I had to think twice to stop myself from adding a Bloody Mary to my coffee order when the stewardess rolled by with the refreshment cart at a quarter to nine. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, I suppose, that Judge Piatt refused to reschedule the two hearings in Bluefield this afternoon, despite all the flooding: a healthy respect for malpractice liability kept me from hydroplaning off some mountainside, drunk at the wheel and crying like a prison bitch. I doubt he’ll rule in favor of the clients, but for once the evil old bastard did me a favor despite himself.
Not long after we landed, the day got worse. Charlotte called my cell while I was waiting for my bag at the cargo carousel. Of course the biopsy reports came back showing neoplastic mast cells. What else would they be?
We always knew it, deep down, even while lifting each other’s artificial hopes by discussing more palatable diagnoses: maybe it was a pimple, an unhealed bite, an infection, a fatty tumor that was as harmless as a marshmallow, a tumor that wasn’t necessarily a killer.
Mast cells are the embodiment of aggressive death, blind and carnivorous as a swarm of sharks. All that remains now is to decide where we’ll draw a holy-water line across our bank balance that the vet vampires can’t pass. It’ll be their impure motives versus our best friend’s quality of life for the rest of the Moose’s time with us. Fuck. My pen is shaking as I write this.
I didn’t set out to start a new journal tonight. It’s been a long, long time since I wrote something that wasn’t for a court or a client.
After Charlotte’s call, I sat on the edge of the carousel, flipping my phone lid open and closed over and over again, watching my garment bag ride in circles until a porter finally loaded it onto a pushcart and wheeled it over to the baggage claim office. The rhythms around me sparked off something in my head. A verse. Since I still haven’t made time to improve my music literacy, and I still can’t write music notation, the best I can do for now is to record the lyrics where I can see them. If I repeat the words often enough, maybe I won’t lose the melody, too.
How can you speak now of high times?
How can you speak now of losing?
And can you speak ever of the phone call you just had?
You use high tricks in contracts,
you use clever, acid wit—
God damn this whole language that only knows how to close.
Until our robots replace us,
until all investors win,
God damn this old god of death
who takes the skins of our friends away.
RENTED: MEMPHIS AIRPORT
RENTAL: 05/19/2010 19:44
RETURN: 05/21/2010 16:03
Japanese Maple. Acer palmatum.
Maple Family: Aceraceae. Native to Japan and Korea.
Bright green clouds of delicate leaves.
RENTED: LEXINGTON AIRPORT
RENTAL: 07/20/2010 09:51
RETURN: 07/23/2010 16:49
RETURNED: KNOXVILLE AIRPORT
Cumberland Gap, TN. 9 – 11 a.m. Clear, 65 -68 F. Highest alt. today: 2200’.
Hiked Iron Works Park to Newlee Iron Furnace (1820s -50s) & up Tennessee Road to Wilderness Road to Cumberland Gap to Tri-State Peak (TN-KY-VA) to Fort Farragut earthworks (Civil War era) past
- Crater blown into mountain when retreating Union army blew up a munitions depot in 1862. Pursuing Confederates were stopped for 18 hrs while ordnance continued to explode
- 2 deer
- 1 wild fowl: grouse? Hen? Disturbed in nest, brown feathers from tan to dark brown, fanned out at the neck when I approached
– hissed, snake-like, rushing up from behind me on R side
– then barking chirps
– then sustained shrill shrieks in alarm, running off back into the forest underbrush
- 2 butterflies, incl. 1 w/ very small body, antennae not visible, black stripes on aqua blue wings (except for tiny bright red triangles where the wings joined the body) & a tail broken off/missing
– watched the butterfly sit on the end of a plant, likely feeding on pollen in the sunshine, while its wings moved gently with stabilizing resistance against the breezes of the mountain
– I received & took a cell phone call from work, hung up & then thanked the butterfly for letting me watch him work & he then promptly flew away!
RENTED: INDIANAPOLIS AIRPORT
RENTAL: 03/01/2011 14:55
RETURN: 03/03/2011 18:16
RETURNED: LOUISVILLE AIRPORT
(A false start?)
The winged apes, which had clung to the vessel like barnacles, broke through the doors of the cargo bin. Behind them, depressurization resealed the portal with luggage, cables, loose equipment, and the bodies of several unfortunate crewmen who—against orders—had been rolling dice in the ship’s aft at the moment of ambush.
With the advantages of surprise and shock, Gorilla Gripp’s agents ripped into human passengers with feral joy. My seatmate was strung up by his paisley tie. I ducked and dodged between the aisles, evading clutch and swing; how I survived is just the iceberg’s tip of the tale.
From the deck came terrible bellows, the din of battle, arcs of lethal light, a great crash, a split-second of silence, and then a famous, familiar voice.
“Agent Grass! What the hell are you doing out of disguise? Back, you goddamned monkeys, back! I’m the captain of this ship!”
Cinema star Royal Powers, resplendent in golden ear hoops and a violet kerchief, hacked his way down the aisle. In his left fist was the bright fury of an eighteenth-century cutlass, its pommel and guard encrusted with violent jewels; in his right fist, an enormous can of Mexican lager.
“A sheer lack of respect is what this is! Shitting and pissing all over first class…just look at that upholstery!”
Fangs, claws, swords and limbs flew in a bloody maelstrom as Powers’ pirates cast aside their false rabbis’ beards, Quakers’ bonnets, tube socks and saffron-colored robes and dove into the thick of it.
“Grass! Get away from that liquor cart and lend me a hand! The last good-looking stewardess has locked herself in the toilet: we’ll have to cut our way through!”
With the back of my right hand, I brushed the side of my duffel bag as I bent down to retrieve the Walther from beneath my assigned chair. I felt the nylon dent slightly into the softer mass that held and concealed the seeds of the Scrotodhendron.
“Just you wait,” I hissed.
RENTED: TRISTATE AIRPORT
RENTAL: 06/07/2011 15:29
RETURN: 06/10/2011 16:34
RETURNED: KNOXVILLE AIRPORT
Bays Mountain Park, Kingsport, TN. 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.. Not certain of altitude.
Hiked past nature preserve into forest paths & returned past
- 2 -3 chipmunks
- 2 squirrels
- 4 wild turkeys (full adult: 2’ approx. tall to top of head (in grassy meadow in front of park next to drive))
- 1 otter (in caged area, being fed)
- 1 wild deer
- 1 fenced-in deer in nose-to-nose communication with a wild raccoon
– Adult doe was lying down in shade of tree with head up
– Raccoon was standing on hind legs very close to doe
– Their nose tips were so close they may have been touching
– This lasted for several seconds, but less than 1 min.; long enough for me to do a double-take & watch in silence to make sure that what I saw was really happening
– The doe sensed my presence first & adjusted her legs & the raccoon then went about 1.5’ up the tree & kept most of his body behind it, but he watched me by peeking around the side. Then he turned from me & began crawling back down the trunk toward the doe as I backed away, watching him
– I didn’t see the doe move again after she initially shifted the weight of her legs
– This was behind the fence of the deer area in the nature preserve at approx. 6:45 p.m. and at 80 F. on a clear day in a shaded & woody area in the middle of a large park on a long Appalachian mtn
RENTED: BATTERY PARK
RENTAL: 07/18/2011 07:40
RETURN: 07/21/2011 15:31
RETURNED: LOGAN AIRPORT
With the weed bills folded into the antique nickel “U.S. of A.” money clip I had stolen from the reservation, it felt like crystalline starlight was leaking from my right hip pocket to glow over me and all that I saw, heard or laid hands upon. I slipped into my augmented retinae so that the telescopics could boost the autumn sundown. For a while, I forgot the weight of the vocopter and its holster.
Things previously taken for granted acquired value and interest.
Behind me, the hills were taller than the one beneath my vegetable boots. This was the most ancient range in the east, and even where the foothills gave rise to the weatherworn mountains to my north, there were no peaks or whitecaps: their tops had been sheared off to provide shortcuts to the mineral hearts of the rocks. Decades of mud slurries followed; once the land had been sapped, the work took its wealth elsewhere and left the fools who remained nothing to pass down to their bitter children but a heritage of mud. Grand schemes of rural renewal came and went; the prison gulags and golf courses failed; roads and bridges went unbuilt and airways promised went undelivered.
Afterward came the permanent heat and the kudzu, advance guards for the march of the jungle from the west and south. The second coming of the great forest to these parts brought a new people, speaking a new language. Born among them, I had never belonged to them, nor they to me.
Before me, the valley rode a sea of deep grass to the river. Small birds colored pink, orange or yellow flew alone or in pairs. Great white avians, with broad, black-tipped wingspans swooped from treetop to treetop. Shrubs and vines bore flower blooms of light blue, cream and fuchsia. Here and there, mammals and reptiles must have certainly stirred, but I could neither see nor hear them. I knew the names of nothing. To my right, the sky was fire and to my left was the coming of night.
My bilateral scopes focused on the terrain rising beyond the far bank of the glittering water. Here, the kudzu rose in canopies to the treetops, clinging to earthen shapes of soft boxes, cones, columns and rounded pyramids. Across the walls of vines, the setting sun refracted thousands of times from the green-black wax of greedy leaves.
That place was once a city; tonight, Dhalihal Architectural Salvage was going to exhume its precious corpse from nature’s firm reclaim and turn it upside down. By midnight, all the skybarges were due to arrive and take their hover formation, teeming with foul-smelling, snaggletoothed day laborers and their brutal supervisors, overpriced thoughtform crews, and security guards in their flying gunboats who were—to a person—lazy and rotten to the core.
I was there to make sure that happened. So goes life with a vocopter for hire. I felt sorriest for the birds; it only seemed right that someone should admire them today, of all days.
“How’re we doing today?”
“How was the vehicle?”
“It drove just fine, but the fuel light would come on at odd times for no reason.”
“Hmm. I’ll let the guys know. Are the keys still in it?”
“No…I have them here.”
“Thanks. Did you get your mileage—scratch that: you’ve got Silver Traveler status. Did you refill it?”
“Didn’t get a chance. Actually, I’m in a rush—“
“Hold on. With the prices outside, that’ll be $130 added to your total—“
“Ugh! My b—”
“Wait, wait, wait…slow down there, sailor! You’re putting this on the same card, right?”
“OK, I’m making a little change retroactively. You forgot that you chose the prepay option at pickup, didn’t you?”
“And the person at the counter must have forgotten to record your preference. And whaddya know? $40 instead of $130. “
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
“No problem. Check the front seat, the back seat, and the trunk and make sure you got everything. Cell phones, CDs, computers, coats, spare change, small children…Oh, and Mr. Halvifax?”
“Don’t forget your receipt.”
– Anthony E. Hoyle, September 2011
Travel Reimbursements (< download)